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Described as “a new kind of CRC event,” Inspire 2017 was two-and-a-half years in the works. It came together in Detroit, Mich., on August 3-5 with leaders, members, and ministry and agency staff from across the Christian Reformed Church.

With attendees from almost a quarter of the denomination’s 1,000 congregations and a broad focus on many kinds of ministry—outreach, small groups, worship, children and youth—“[Inspire] gave ordinary members a way to engage with the denomination in a meaningful way,” said attendee Jen Veltman, 30, a member of North Hills CRC in Troy, Mich.

The Board of Trustees (governing board of the CRC, now Council of Delegates) conceived the event in 2014, in response to Synod 2013’s identified pathways to cultivate binationality. It’s the last in a cycle of gatherings, some country-specific and one binational, to be held every two to three years. 

In the opening Thursday night worship, emcees Denise Posie and Adam Perez welcomed the group of more than 800 gathered in a ballroom of the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center to “worship, fellowship, and receive whatever God has in store for us,” as Posie said.

Rev. Ben and Melody Van Arragon, pastor and music director at First CRC of Detroit, coordinated the worship component of Inspire 2017’s four gathering sessions. Multilingual songs and spoken-word pieces with percussion were included, and a conference gospel choir was an anchor of the planning.

George Prins, 66, a youth leader from Mountainview CRC in Grimsby, Ont., joined the choir, led by Calvin College Gospel Choir director Nate Glasper. “I love the momentum and the freedom of spirit of gospel music, and I just wanted to be a part of that,” Prins said.

Steven Timmermans, executive director of the CRC, said the planning team cast the net wide for programming ideas, wanting the conference to be a “broadly-focused opportunity for many folks involved in ministry to come together, to be inspired, to share ideas, to be exposed to new understandings of how to be the church together.”

Offerings at Inspire included 66 workshops or panel discussions; sessions for people ministering in a particular area, like Coffee Break leaders or spiritual directors; and early morning or after-hours activities around prayer and music. Two offsite workshops showed stories of Detroit ministries ushering in God’s kingdom, and breakout sessions looked at topics including Intergenerational Leadership, Your Church Online, Young Adults’ Love-Hate Relationship to the Church, Changing Postures—Beyond Programs, and the Role of Worship.

Conference organizers were not able to provide cost estimates for the event, as the accounting was still being tabulated at the time of writing, but Inspire 2017 was made possible by the underwriting of a large gift by the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation as well as individual and group registrations, table fees from a ministry expo offered throughout the event, sponsorships, and paid advertising in the program booklet.

Inspire 2017 was organized by a planning team of 11: half CRCNA staff, half pastors and staff from churches near the region, and one contract hire to help plan the event.

Though organizers chose a facility that could have accommodated a larger crowd, as they didn’t know what to expect in terms of registration, Timmermans said they were “very pleased with the 820 that have come.”

Walter Neutel, in his 70s and a member of Calvin CRC in Ottawa, Ont., attended with his wife at the invitation of their church council. He also didn’t know what to expect. “I was a bit skeptical of the whole thing,” Neutel said. “It’s better than I had expected. I was encouraged by the sessions I attended.”


photo credit Jonathan Steigenga

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